Obohobo 2004 Revised 2007
"Storm force winds, gale force eight, force nine in squalls. Wind speeds expected to reach sixty to seventy miles per hour. Some structural damage can be expected. Blustery heavy showers. Temperatures down to four degrees Celsius but with the wind chill factor it will feel like minus five." The Met Office forecaster repeated the gloomy warning.
With mournful creaking and sighing as if despairing of the struggle, the roots of the huge, majestic old oak that had tenaciously held firm for many centuries, lost their grip in the rain softened soil. Slowly, seemingly with great reluctance, the tree toppled to the ground with a tremendous thud. In doing so its outstretched limbs brought down the overhead electricity and telephone cables and its trunk straddled the road, completely blocking the cul-de-sac. Fortunately only two bungalows were affected both with a single occupant. The one nearest to the tree, belonged to Janet Jones and the other to Eric Lebour.
Eric woke to the sound of rending wood as the old limbs broke under the impact. He rightly guessed the old tree he'd climbed as a boy was gone. The thought saddened him. "Better check the damage," he said to himself. Although his senses and the absence of the comforting red glow from the digital bedside clock told him the power had gone, he automatically tried the bedside light. Nothing. Peering out of the window revealed nothing either. Blackness. No moon, no stars, just the sound of high winds and lashing rain. Even without the power cut there were no streetlights in this very rural village but usually, 'her next door, ' kept the porch light on all night.
Feeling his way to the kitchen he found a torch and then a box of candles. The battery kitchen clock showed 2:36. "I'd better get dressed. Depending on how the tree fell it may have hit Ms. Jones' house." Donning his yellow waterproof suit, he took the powerful space lamp from his workshop and headed for the lane. The rain had eased slightly but buffeted by the high winds, it was difficult to keep a footing on the debris-strewn road. Slowly he made his way along. With the space lamp he checked his neighbour's house was okay as he passed and then came to the tree and the still sizzling electric cables. Deciding he could do nothing more until daylight, he returned home and tried to phone the Power Company on his mobile. Their switchboard or call centre was already jammed. He stoked the wood burner and returned to bed.
Daylight showed the extent of the disaster but from the radio he knew that compared with some areas, it was comparatively minor. He called the Power Company but again he couldn't get through. Swearing about the 'improved' system of having central call centres miles from the actual areas affected, Eric reviewed his own situation. It wasn't too bleak. His workshop was part of the house and he could work from home although without the use of power tools, things would take a little longer. Much of his violin making was handwork anyway. Without the landline for the phone, he wouldn't be able to access his emails, which was an inconvenience more than a disaster. He could cook on the wood burner and this also provided the hot water and central heating. A small generator he'd installed for just such a situation would keep the freezer working. After losing a freezer full of food two power cuts previously, the insurers had inserted a clause in the policy that didn't cover 'acts of God' that resulted in power cuts. Therefore they now wouldn't pay for replacement food so he'd decided to have his own insurance and bought a small generator that would keep the freezer working and one or two small lights. The cost of the generator was now less than his premiums would have been. In any case he was a gadgets man and loved designing circuits and practical tools for making life a little easier.
After breakfast he again donned his yellow suit and went out in the rain. The wind, still very strong, had abated a little. Apart from a few overturned bins and two shrubs uprooted, his property seemed unscathed. From the front his neighbour's looked in a similar state although there was no sign of life there. He debated whether to call but thought she might still be abed. In any case she was always very stand-offish. At best she briefly passed the time of day when they met with a quiet "Good Morning Mr. Lebour. She, like her mother, always referred to him as Mr. Lebour and in turn he referred to her as Ms. Jones, only finding out her first name when a letter was wrongly delivered to his address. To him, it seemed she considered her status in life was far above his even though they were of similar age, or so he guessed.
Probably this was the only similarity. Ms. Jones was always well dressed in expensive clothes. Her hair always had that fresh from the hairdresser's look and her carefully made up face gave the appearance of a photographer's model. However, her job as personal secretary to the manager of a small local company was by no means up market. When a visitor asked Eric about his neighbour, he'd replied, "She's a hoity-toity bitch that probably has to open her legs for her boss to keep her job." In that he was completely wrong. She was an efficient secretary who the boss relied on to a considerable extent. She knew the paperwork inside out and the first names of all the contacts and their immediate relatives. Behind the upper class exterior, Janet was a shy person who didn't make friends easily, a person who tried to keep herself to herself and not have personal relationships with others, particularly with men.
Her mother, when she was alive, was not quite as bad but even she treated him more like a workman than a neighbour. On a few occasions he'd been called to the house to rectify an emergency. The first occasion, when the water inlet pipe to the washing machine split and was spraying water over the utility room floor, she tried to make him take payment and seemed very annoyed he wouldn't take any. "It's just being neighbourly," he'd told her. She too called him Mr. Lebour, never Eric and frowned when he called her Margaret instead of Mrs. Jones. With her he assumed it was because being elderly and inheriting the customs pertaining when she was a child. In the three years she'd lived there before she died, Mrs. Jones never mentioned a daughter so it was with some surprise, Eric saw her at the funeral. Only a few weeks later she moved into the house.
In complete contrast to the neat and correct appearance of his neighbour, Eric dressed shabbily. His usual clothes were his dungarees, with a check shirt and a cloth cap if he went outside. More often than not he wore slippers everywhere except for going to the shops. His one and only suit, bought for a relatives wedding years ago, these days only came out for funerals and fortunately for him, they were rare events. The house reflected his appearance. It was clean enough, but not neat and tidy. Beside his favourite chair was a pile of books waiting to be read and on the table several magazines he studied while eating his meals. Had she been asked Ms. Jones would have described him as "An uncouth carpenter, probably into drugs." Neither statement was true. Eric was a skilled musical instrument maker and never touched drugs or even alcohol.
None of this bothered Eric as he walked the short distance along his lane. The tree he could now see clearly, completely blocked the road. "When this rain eases, I must get the chainsaw out," he said to himself, "This old tree should give me enough firewood for several winters to come. I doubt the council will come to clear it for a few days yet. If I cut some of the top branches, I can push my bike round the stump and get to the village shop." Things still seemed okay in the Jones' house so he returned home to get out of the wet.
Mid afternoon, the rain had more or less ceased but the winds still howled. With an hour or so of January daylight left, taking his barrow and chainsaw, he started cutting a few of the easier boughs from the old tree and carted them home. The rain returned with vengeance. On his last trip in the now fading light, he caught a glimpse of Ms. Jones running towards the back of her house. "I'll park this lot in the garage and then see if she needs any help," Eric decided. "She must be in some sort of trouble if she is going outside in this weather. Hardly seems dressed for outside." The sight that greeted him when he walked to the back of her house would have been comical had not the situation been serious. Ms. Jones, wet and bedraggled, was struggling to cover the gaping hole where the bedroom window had blown in. The wind blew the undersized sheet of cardboard out of place each time she offered it up and tried, with fingers that were numb with cold, to tear a strip of tape from the reel to fix it.
"You need some help Ms. Jones." Eric stated matter of factly.
His voice startled her for a moment. "No, thank you," she replied as if he had asked a question, "I can fix it when I can get this Sellotape to stick."
"Don't be dappy woman. You're wasting your time. The cardboard won't stand up to the weather and the Sellotape won't stick to wet wood."
She knew he was right, but tired, cold and annoyed with herself, she turned on him "And what would you know about it? I suppose your house is okay. You're thinking to make out on this. I heard you stealing wood from the tree. You ought to be prosecuted for looting."
.... There is more of this story ...